How can Marvel possibly top the expectations after the first three phases of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) that ended with the crossover of the Avengers in Avengers: Endgame and Peter Parker’s second solo Spider-man: Far From Home, a saga filled with action, emotions and everything a story needs. But, here we are, in Phase Four with Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings and Marvel continues to set the bar too high.
Shang-Chi is, in a way, the first Marvel movie of Phase Four. Although Black Widow was the first title of this phase, it takes place after the events of Captain America: Civil War since our beloved Russian spy dies in the events of Endgame which rules out any possibility of a feature other than a flashback, making Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings the first after the events of Endgame. That means, the film is set in or after 2023.
We see our first east Asian Marvel lead in Simu Liu, the Chinese-Canadian actor known for the sitcom Kim’s Convenience. He plays Shang-Chi, who leaves his heritage in his teens after the need to become morally correct takes over him. Now, more than a decade later, he is Shaun; a name he is using to fit in the American world, a name that pushes Katy, played by the hilarious Awkwafina, his best friend to be ridiculously derisive when she finds out about his past. That happens when Wenwu, played by Tony Leung, Shang-Chi’s father and the bearer of the legendary Ten Rings sends his army after Shang-Chi and his younger sister Xialing, played by Meng’er Zhang.
After Black Widow, we are witnessing another emotionally dysfunctional family. Wenwu, who has been alive for more than a thousand years, fails to bear the loss of his wife Xiang Li, played by the elegant Fala Chen. She was the only person who was able to stop Wenwu’s ruthless thirst for power. After her death, the family loses its emotional connection, forcing Shang-Chi and Xialing to flee from their father who reverts to his old habits. Technically, Xiang Li’s death paves way for the entire story.
In the first half, director Destin Daniel Cretin successfully explores every character arc while being careful about not taking too much time. While Shang-Chi, or Shaun, and Katy lead a karaoke-filled life in San Francisco as valet drivers, Xialing runs a cage-fighting syndicate in Macau. When the family is united, more regions are explored and the story becomes more Marvel-like.
The final battle puts Shang-Chi against an evil soul-sucking dragon in the ancient mythical village of Ta Lo, his mother’s former residing place which gave her the powers and protection. Now, the village is led by Shang-Chi’s maternal aunt Jiang Nan, played by Michelle Yeoh, who is tasked with safeguarding the universe from the aforementioned evil. Shang-Chi, Xialing, and Katy side with Jiang Nan even if it means going against Wenwu who is hell-bent on opening the doors to evil, though, he is not aware due to his unresolved grief.
Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings have the best actions scenes in the MCU so far. The martial arts enthusiast in me was left highly in awe of all the action sequences; be it the bus scene, the scaffold scene, or even the ‘love at first fight’ between Wenwu and Xiang Li. Between all this, the choreography and direction are highly commendable.
Thor: Ragnarok (2017) undoubtedly set a new standard in the MCU. We found more comic roles that would even reduce the tension in a particular scene. That was also the case in Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings. With the right amount of comedy through interesting and legendary characters, the film makes sure the audience has a good laugh.
The only downside? There is very little information about the legendary Ten Rings. But, that is classic Marvel, isn’t it? However, that should not make us mad since Shang-Chi, and Katy will now be a part of the bigger picture as portrayed in the two post-credits scenes that will surely leave you amazed.
While this is, in a way, Shang-Chi’s origin story, the film fails to explore an important part of the title. Perhaps, it is saved for a later reveal which is exciting and frustrating at the same time. Cretton does a wonderful job to reveal Marvel’s first east Asian lead and bring him into the bigger picture of the MCU through easter eggs and other important characters. The film, otherwise, had a brilliant cast, superb chemistry, top-notch action scenes and just the right amount of comedy, making it one of the best in the MCU. Honestly, my bias towards Thor is the only factor that keeps Thor: Ragnarok above Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings.
Cast: Simu Liu, Awkwafina, Tony Leung
Director: Destin Daniel Cretton
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